Finding a way through the pain of separation

September 1, 2012


Dean Mason, chairman of Dads in Distress Support Services, whose book, Daddy’s OK, will be launched tomorrow. Photo: Jason South

When Tim’s* marriage ended more than a decade ago, the Melbourne teacher who was living alone in his small workshop, thought about throwing himself under his power saw – more than once.

“There was a time when I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head,” he says now. “I came very close a couple of times.”

The only thing that stopped him, he says, was the memory of a troubled student he had taught years earlier, whose father had taken his life following the breakdown of his own marriage. That boy’s father also happened to be one of Tim’s oldest friends.

“He couldn’t handle being separated from his kids … but I saw what my mate’s death did to that boy and I knew I couldn’t do that to my children.”

Tim’s story of despair is one Dean Mason, a fellow divorcee and chairman of Dads in Distress Support Services – for separated men – has heard many times before.

Mason says for non-custodial parents – 80 per cent of which are male – the challenges of being displaced from your family can be devastating.

“I’m not saying it’s any more distressing than for the parent who stays with the children. But when you look at the combination of factors that come to bear on the non-custodial parent – family law issues, financial support issues, sometimes child protection issues, struggling to find somewhere to live, often not being able to see your children, and all the other psychological issues – they amount to such extreme pressures that we know people in those situations are at a higher risk of self-harm.”

Research has shown separated men are up to six times more likely to die by suicide than married men.

Mason, who has volunteered with Dads in Distress for eight years, says it is the desperate stories of thousands of separated men that prompted him to write Daddy’s OK, which will be officially launched tomorrow – Father’s Day.

Mason says the book, which shares the experiences of 14 separated men – is written as much for other men, as it is for their family and friends and the broader community, including policymakers. “It’s really about getting the public conversation started,” he says. “I want the community to better understand the experience of the non-custodial parent so they can more quickly support them or encourage them to get support.”

He also advocates for a “refinement” of the way in which family law and welfare agencies treat non-custodial parents so that “we can get better results for mum and the kids and dad”.

Psychologist Terry Melvin, the founding manager of Men’s Line Australia, who will launch Mason’s book , says Daddy’s OK is a timely reminder of how painful separation can be.

It was on Father’s Day seven years ago that Robert Farquharson drove his car into a Winchelsea dam, killing his three sons. Farquharson had separated from the boys’ mother just 10 months earlier.

“Support – both formal and informal – is crucial,” says Melvin.

“And if you’re worried about someone, never hesitate to ask, ‘Are you thinking of harming yourself?’ because that puts it out on the table and provides the opportunity to support them to get assistance.”

Tim agrees.

“I think with blokes you have to be blunt. I don’t think the question of suicide exists in public or private discussion anywhere near enough.”

*Name has been changed.

DIDSS support: 1300 853 437; Lifeline: 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636.

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